The GOP fields its team

Charlie Baker has made his choice in Karyn Polito.  Jim Hand in today’s Attleboro Sun Chronicle has a piece on the history of GOP gubernatorial candidates choosing a running mate.  It’s an interesting modern development that hasn’t caught on with Democrats and Baker has chosen wisely. 

Joe Battenfeld in today’s Herald reminds us that Democrat Tom Reilly did experiment with choosing his own running mate, with disastrous results.  But beyond Reilly, Democrats have preferred to allow caucuses, conventions, and primaries to choose their nominee.

Jim O’Sullivan in the Globe notes that the choice of Polito may help Baker consolidate his very small voting bloc of GOP conservatives.  Certainly Democrats wasted no time in tying Polito to the Tea Party and calling her, in the words of their own lieutenant governor candidate Stephen Kerrigan, someone “whose views are well outside our Commonwealth’s mainstream.”

Polito’s greatest general election challenge is to overcome the nice things she’s said about tea party radicals like Allen West.  The tea party movement has its vocal supporters in Massachusetts but they have yet to provide a pathway to electoral success.  Since its rise in 2010, they’ve been shut out of all statewide and congressional races with one rather notable special election victory that, with the benefit of hindsight, is an anomaly.  Certainly the movement didn’t help Baker in 2010.

But the great swath of independent voters who will help decide the race, and lean Democratic, probably care little that about a few words spoken about a tea party hero they have likely never heard of.  The race is going to be decided based on how voters line up the two-party nominees, their view of the past 8 years under Governor Patrick, and whether or not they essential want to stay the course or make a change.

Polito will help Baker make a case for change and position the GOP ticket as the alternative voters are looking for (if, IF!, they decide they want change).  She is an energetic presence on the stump, has a statewide network of supporters, and can help the GOP regain strength among women voters.  A pocket of strength in Worcester County helps both in keeping a gadfly primary challenger Mark Fisher from gaining any steam and also keeping general election totals up in a place the GOP needs to win big.

Baker’s timing of his choice is quite good.  Polito was one of Michael Sullivan’s biggest boosters last year and in that effort she joined state representative Geoff Diehl.  The Rep has emerged as one of the the most vocal proponents of the effort to repeal the law tying the gas tax to the rate of inflation.  That effort has proven quite popular and is very likely to appear on the 2014 general election ballot.

This is a natural issue for Polito and if she almost singularly becomes the team’s voice on it and ties their success to the success of that initiative, she may well be Baker’s ticket to the Corner Office.

About Peter Ubertaccio

Peter Ubertaccio is the Director of Joseph Martin Institute for Law & Society at Stonehill College in Easton and Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science & International Studies. His work focuses on political parties, marketing and institutions. He received his Ph.D. in Politics from Brandeis University in Waltham, MA. Professor Ubertaccio and his family live on Cape Cod where he is on the Board of Directors of the OpenCape Corporation and the Sandwich Economic Initiative Corporation.
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